Person of the Week
Peter Balisciano: It’s Never Too Late
At the age of 90, North Haven resident Peter Balisciano earned his GED. Peter also recently received a certificate from the State of Connecticut in recognition of his military service during the Korean Conflict and the Cold War. (Photo courtesy of Peter Balisciano)
Some people embrace the idea of always seeking knowledge and growing as a person, no matter their age. One such person, Peter Balisciano, lives in North Haven and earlier this year he earned his GED at the age of 90. His love of life, people, and learning are infectious.
Peter was born in Branford and his family moved to New Haven before he turned one.
“We lived in the same apartment building as my grandpa and grandma, and we moved back to Branford when I was in the 5th or 6th grade, and I grew up in Branford after that and attended Branford schools, including Branford High School,” recalls Peter.
Peter didn’t complete high school, however, because of a sense of duty to the country.
At the age of 17, Peter says, “When the Korean War broke out, I quit school and joined the service, which was a stupid thing to do, but I felt I had to.”
He had first tried to join the Marines but was rejected for not passing his physical because of a problem with his right eye. They accepted his cousin, however.
“I told myself I had to do something,” Peter says, and the Army Reserve was where he found acceptance.
After joining the Army Reserve, he never got called to duty.
“I decided to go into active duty through the reserve and by the time I got out of boot camp and radio school, they went into peace talks, and when I graduated radio school at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, we all got sent to Germany because the Russians were acting up at that time and the Cold War was in progress, so I think that was the reason they sent us to Europe.”
Peter served 14 months in Germany in the 97th Signal Battalion of the 7th Army Communications, he recalls.
“I was up on a hill at a radio relay station for most of those 14 months, and I was team chief of the radio station and had three men under me. That’s where I spent my tour, in a hilltop town called Waldenburg in South Central, Germany, in 1954 and 1955,” he says.
When Peter left the service, marriage to his sweetheart Sue followed and they had two children together, Michael and Marcia. Marcia lives in the U.K. and Michael lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.
“Marcia got her bachelor’s degree at the University of Massachusetts, found a job in Chicago, and while there attended the University of Chicago and earned her masters on a partial scholarship, and then she decided to go to the London School of Economics and got her Ph.D. in economics,” says Peter. “She wound up with an excellent job there with Reed-Elsevier. She’s done well.”
As Peter watched his daughter excel in higher education, he couldn’t help but think about his own abandonment of high school decades earlier. The fact that Peter had not completed high school never sat well with him.
“I wanted to get my GED while I was in the service,” says Peter, “but I moved around so much, and the outfit I was in was always on alert, and every time the Russians moved something we were called out to the field on alert, set up our radios out in the field, and when nothing happened, we repacked and went back to the mountain. But we were constantly on the move.
“And when we were on maneuvers,” Peter continues, “we were the first ones out and the last ones back because we had to set up the equipment and then tear it down after everyone else went back to their home bases.
“When I got out of the service I didn’t want to go back to my old job and decided to get a job where I could learn something,” adds Peter.
Apprentice machinist was the choice, “and after eight years working in a machine shop, they made me a foreman, and after that, I went to Pratt & Whitney and got a job in the master mechanics department.”
Peter spent the next 18 years at Pratt & Whitney until his retirement around 1994.
“They were having mass layoff at the time and even with 18 years of service I was a low man of the totem pole in my department. They came out with a package to take either a voluntary layoff with incentives or early retirement. I took the voluntary layoff, which gave me another year of seniority because you were still working for Pratt & Whitney while on layoff, and I think it was a wise thing because I kept my medical insurance and they gave me a bonus for taking early retirement, so it was a good package.”
Peter was about 62 at the time of his retirement.
Today, at age 90, Peter says he is feeling well and healthy and still does the things he loves, like hunting and fishing.
“My mom lived to be 94 and my dad died a little sooner than that at age 86 from a heart attack,” notes Peter, adding, “I don’t get deep into heating healthy, but I try, and I try to stay physical.”
When Peter’s wife passed away three years ago, his daughter, Marcia, suggested he do something to keep busy.
“My daughter got after me after and said, ‘Dad, you ought to get something to do,’ and I told her I was thinking about it,” he says.
Marcia suggested he get his GED.
“That’s what I was thinking about!” Peter told her, and he then said he wanted to think about it for a while. He wondered, “What do I need it for now? I’m retired. I don’t intend to get a job that would need any further education.”
Two weeks later Peter received a telephone call from Adult High School in Hamden.
“They said I had to come in and register and take an entry test, and I asked what this call was all about,” says Peter. “They said, ‘Well, your daughter signed you up for a GED.’”
Back to school, Peter went, hitting the books, and of the experience, he says “I enjoyed it so much, not the fact that I was working for a GED but because I met such wonderful people. Most of them were from Haiti, Argentina, Brazil, two from South Korea, one from China, and one woman was a single working mom with two children. These people were so dedicated, they wanted so much to be American,” Peter says. “Two of the women had husbands who were doctors doing work at Yale.”
As far as his studies went, Peter says he had the most trouble with math.
“I should go back at the beginning of next term and take my math test again because I missed passing a math test by one point,” admits Peter.
Peter was awarded the GED because of the rest of his academic performance. Still, Peter says, “I feel I should have passed, so I’ll take it [the test] again.”
On the heels of this personal accomplishment, Peter’s daughter is now encouraging him to take more courses.
“She says I don’t have to try and get a degree, but just take courses like in American history and other individual courses,” Peter says, adding, “There are a lot of courses you can take, home courses.”
Thinking back over his life, and some of the choices he made, Peter admits, “I can’t even tell myself why I quit school to go fight in a war. I have three uncles that went into World War II and didn’t see them for two or three years, and another uncle was in France for a year and a half. And then my youngest uncle enlisted in the Army. Everyone tells me I took after that uncle.”
And reflecting on recent events, Peter says, “I never expected anything like this. It really is overwhelming, everything that’s happened to me since I started the GED classes, everything’s been so wonderful. And now I have a real high school diploma.”